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July 2, 2010Jared Sullinger won't go down in history as one of Ohio State coach Thad Matta's toughest recruiting assignments.
Sullinger, the younger brother of former Ohio State guard J.J. Sullinger, wanted to play for his hometown team so much that he committed to the Buckeyes as a freshman at Columbus' Northland High.
"I've always liked them since Michael Redd and Scoonie Penn and all of them were there," said Sullinger, the No. 1 center and No. 5 overall prospect in the 2010 recruiting class. "My brother just put the icing on the cake.
"I always wanted to be a Buckeye. There was no doubt."
The feelings were mutual.
While many prospects grow up in Columbus with dreams of playing for Ohio State, rarely does a player have the physical maturity to attract the attention of big-time college programs as a ninth-grader. Then again, it became apparent early that Sullinger's future was as big as his body.
When Sullinger signed his letter-of-intent last fall, Matta told reporters his introduction to Jared came when J.J. Sullinger was playing for the Buckeyes from 2003-06.
"Hey, Coach, I'm telling you this right now," J.J. Sullinger told Matta. "You need to recruit my little brother."
"Julian?" Matta asked, referring to a Sullinger sibling who would go on to play at Kent State from 2005-09.
"No, Jared," J.J. Sullinger replied. "I was just at his game, and he had like 28 rebounds."
"Little Jared?" Matta responded. "Are you kidding me?"
That might have been last time anyone has used the word "little" in any sentence describing Sullinger.
Sullinger's 6-foot-9, 262-pound frame gives him a Big Ten-ready body before he even arrives on campus. He actually has needed to work on losing weight rather than gaining it. And he doesn't have any qualms about utilizing his assets as he fights for position under the basket.
"He has the body to throw around -- and he loves to throw it around," said Jerry Meyer, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. "He likes to play physical. That's probably the basis of his game, the foundation. It's his physicality and physical nature."
That toughness came from mixing it up with his older siblings. Jared is 10 years younger than J.J. and 6 years younger than Julian, but that didn't stop him from tagging along whenever his brothers were playing hoops. He inevitably wanted to join in.
"They gave him no slack," said Sullinger's father, Columbus Northland coach Satch Sullinger. "That's why the more guys beat on Jared, the more you see him smile. They wouldn't let him pout when they beat on him. ? The two boys had college workouts they had to go through, and they'd take Jared along with them.
"Jared had the experience of college workouts in the weight room and conditioning and things that the average kid doesn't have."
The showdowns might take place in a gym, on an outdoor court or even in a hallway. The Sullinger brothers would use any setting as an excuse to continue their sibling rivalry.
"We had a little hallway in our house. We'd play in a hallway about as wide as two bodies standing next to each other, and we'd go at it all the time,'' Julian Sullinger said. "It was really me and my older brother because we were closer in age. It took a little while before [Jared] was able to compete with us, maybe when he was in high school.
"Ever since then, he's just skyrocketed. Now he's surpassed us both."
Sullinger earned Ohio's "Mr. Basketball" honor each of the past two seasons while starring at Northland. He also received the 2010 Naismith Award as the national high school player of the year while his dad was named the Naismith coach of the year, marking the first time a father-son duo had won those two awards in the same year.
He averaged 19.9 points and 14.8 rebounds while making two-thirds of his shots to help Northland win a state title his junior season. He averaged 24.0 points, 12.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 3.0 blocks as a senior for a Northland team that was ranked as high as second in the RivalsHigh 100 national poll before losing a regional championship.
Playing against his brothers had prepared Sullinger for anything he faced in high school. "They were always telling me what I needed to do to get to the next level," Sullinger said.
Sullinger's brothers also gave him an up-close look at the NCAA tournament. J.J. and Jared were successful enough in their college careers that their respective teams played NCAA tournament games on the same day. Their dad went to both games -- one was in Detroit and one was in Dayton -- before heading back to Columbus to get Jared to an AAU event the following day.
Those family connections also create plenty of demands. Sullinger already faced the pressure of living up to the family name. Now he faces the responsibility of delivering for his hometown school.
Does any of that worry him?
"I've been getting it since fifth grade, so it doesn't really bother me," he said. "My dad's been talking about how I'm going to be the best Sullinger. I'm just trying to live up to expectations."
The expectations certainly are high. Sullinger already is considered a likely lottery pick. He is projected as the No. 5 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Web sites www.draftexpress.com and www.nbadraft.net.
Sullinger is expected to make an instant impact, assuming he keeps his weight under control. He weighed as much as 280 pounds at one point before improving his conditioning.
"He's ready for the rugged play, that's for sure," Meyer said. "I think he can come in as a freshman and be a physically imposing type of player who takes up a lot of space and controls his space.''
As good as he is in the paint, Sullinger also can play away from the basket. He shot 38.0 percent from 3-point range as a high school senior.
"He's a multi-skilled big guy," Ohio State assistant Jeff Boals said. "There might be times, depending on how well he progresses and how he's in shape, where he could be out on the perimeter. We'll definitely move him around in different situations and different spots to take advantage of his skill level. That's one thing Coach Matta really likes, multi-dimensional players.
"We're not going to label him as a 'five' or as a 'four.' Jared's a basketball player."
In some respects, Sullinger is walking into an ideal situation. Ohio State returns four starters from the team that went 29-8 and reached the Sweet 16 last season, though the missing starter is national player of the year Evan Turner. Still, Sullinger doesn't have to come in and carry a team.
"The good thing is he's coming in with some veterans and experienced guys who are returning," Boals said. "He's not going to have to shoulder the load right away. He obviously will be an integral part of what we do, but we have four starters returning."
That veteran roster also ups the ante. Ohio State has legitimate Final Four aspirations that probably won't be met unless Sullinger emerges as a big-timer.
Sullinger wants to follow his brothers into the NCAA tournament and make his hometown proud. That's quite a burden to put on a teenager. Then again, Sullinger's dealt with great expectations for about as long as he can remember.
"The most important thing he has is his mindset," Julian Sullinger said. "He just has a great mindset. He always likes to silence his critics. A lot of people tell him he's not a great jump shooter or he's not that athletic. Time and time again, he follows through and silences his critics.
"I think he should be fine. He'll be able to handle all the pressure that comes along with it."
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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